Always scheduled on my dusty path is a day at the food market. From South East Asia, Central Asia, the Silk Road, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas, local food markets have remarkable similarities in function.
Style, however, is the eye candy. Women wear make up and men wear their hats. People dress to be seen, even if slogging carrots and onions. Babies are strapped to backs, and little ones clear the area of husks, debris, and bits. Aisles are blocked with those conversing and catching up, and it is a heavenly slow wander around the tables.
Most markets are segregated by plant, animal, grains, and “accessories” – the herbs and spices that localize the presentation and flavor of foods that you mostly know. No matter where in the world, the spice vendors position themselves seemingly identically. Whether a tub made of bamboo slats, woven rattan, wooden barrels or a plastic tub; a mountain of local spices are packed individually — and for some reason, usually topped off in a pyramid shape at the top.
The colors are vivid — yellows for gingers, browns for cloves, reds for paprika and peppers, greens for local herbs, white for salts. Bags — 1/2 kilo, 1 kilo — surround the barrels so housewives can easily grab their weekly need. (Note: Learn your weights and measures in kilos and grams, dear friends!)
If the shopper hesitates, a long spoon or straw dipped into vat of spice is held out to the buyer providing the whiff or taste sample convincing a successful purchase.
But now, let’s talk cinnamon! Once Pfeffersnaps became a commercial business, it was time to meet with the wholesale spice vendors. One magical day was spent analyzing six or seven cinnamon samples — both stick and powder. The samples ranged in color from pale beige to a deep mahogany brown.
The cinnamon man started it all with a simple but crucial question: What are you making? I told him about Pfeffersnaps and the tantalizing mouthful of spicy flavor. Clearly an expert on palates, he suggested that the pale samples were too delicate. Ricocheting the other direction, I asked for the strongest — the deep chocolate brown. He suggested that this sample likely would not “cooperate” with my cookie. Indeed, too high an oil content would alter baking times and even the shape and texture of the end product.
Interesting note, he said that the darkest cinnamons were usually used for roasting meats. From then, we played around with the middle samples and decided on the perfect one for Pfeffersnaps. (Can’t tell you… Trade secret!)
I love my work! Send me to world markets. Pfeffersnaps – The World’s Most Pfenominal Cookie